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‘Immediate Family’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 27, 1989


Jonathan Kaplan
Glenn Close;
James Woods;
Mary Stuart Masterson;
Kevin Dillon
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Somehow a vindictive, knife-wielding Glenn Close is preferable to Close bathed in heavenly light--her "I eat whole grain cereals" look. Alas, she goes back to the goddess-of-baseball mode as a perfect mother -- perfect except that she can't have a baby -- in a sticky business called "Immediate Family." Golly, she's radiant. And gosh, so is James Woods.

Woods, known for his surly roles, puts his sunny side up as Close's wisecracking but ultra-supportive husband. His flippancy is meant to, and sometimes does, counter the gush inherent in the subject -- a refreshing change of pace, incidentally, from singles having babies thrust upon them. The Spectors, Linda and Michael, yearn for a baby boom, but the attractive, personable, professional couple cannot conceive despite medical intervention.

A schmaltzy, sluggish first act turns Linda into the Little Match Girl of infertility -- dutifully taking her temperature, inwardly wincing as girlfriends trade third-trimester anecdotes, crying when her period starts. She may not be pregnant, but each moment surely is. Linda's every blink is loaded with nuance, and Michael oozes succor. Only moments before the movie becomes hazardous to diabetics, the Spectors decide to adopt a child, bringing on Mary Stuart Masterson.

One of America's surest young stars, Masterson gives an honest, unpretentious performance as the forthright Lucy, a pregnant 17-year-old who decides the Spectors can provide a better home for her baby than she and her boyfriend, Sam (Kevin Dillon), can. After a nervous mutual inspection, the Spectors find themselves nurturing the birth mother, whose own mother died when she was barely 7. Now she lives in a blue-collar neighborhood with a truck-driving relation and his unruly brood.

The Spectors give Lucy a taste of childhood: Linda tucks her into bed, and Michael and Lucy enjoy a basketball game together as the three -- the girl now second-guessing her decision -- await the delivery. The obvious solution seems to be: adopt Lucy and become an immediate family. It may sound too pat, but why should the filmmakers resist this ploy when they have shunned no other bona fide heart-tugger?

Barbara Benedek, who cowrote "The Big Chill," is gifted but glib; we can feel her plotting our tears. Despite a bow to abortion rights, this is a movie with an '80s ethic, which turns adoption into something approximating a corporate takeover.

The Spectors may be warm as toasters, but they come off as rather more acquisitive than child-deprived. They've got a glorious home on a rugged sea cliff, beautiful furnishings, beautiful friends. They seem to think of a child as one more benefit of the good life, the only one they have been denied. So they take someone else's baby. Benedek makes the point in a female bonding scene: "The tragedy of my life is not having a Barbie doll," says Linda. "Then you've had a good life," says Lucy, the hard-knocks kid.

As he did in the "The Accused," director Jonathan Kaplan wins a solid performance from the cast ingenue, with Masterson recalling Jodie Foster's spunk and naivete. She shines in Close's glow. Every scene is meant to go right to your cockles, as when Michael cuts the baby's umbilical cord. Or when Lucy tells Sam, "I wanted him to look just like you."

There's reason to applaud a movie about the difficulties of teenage pregnancy, but "Immediate Family" seems to say it's not such a big deal after all: Give the first one away and have another after you've established your career.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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